The Chargers come to Philly licking their wounds after they surrendered a 28-7 lead and lost to the Texans on a last-second field goal Monday night. The Eagles, in turn, are on a high after besting the Redskins, 33-7, even though they almost choked up a 26-point lead. But they survived and come into Sunday’s home opener at the Linc knowing that as explosive as Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense was against the Redskins there was room for improvement.
Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano will likely stack the box early to try and stop an Eagles rushing attack that netted 263 yards on the ground. Asked if he would load up to stop the Birds run game, Chip joked, “Fortunately, I don’t have to.” LeSean McCoy ran for 184 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries against the Redskins, but there should be more of Bryce Brown sprinkled in this week. The Chargers run a 3-4 base defense and defensive end Cory Liuget is their most disruptive lineman. He should have an advantage if matched up against right guard Todd Herremans.
Former Colt Dwight Freeney is the Chargers’ best pass rusher and will likely face left tackle Jason Peters. Freeney pass rushed from the right 70 percent of snaps played against Houston. The outside linebacker could be exploited in the run game, though. Because the Eagles were ahead early, Michael Vick threw only 25 passes on Monday. He was efficient and avoided interceptions. The Chargers want to put the game in his hands and force him out of his first options. Kelly’s offense, though, gives the quarterback multiple run-pass options in the zone read. Will the Chargers find a way to slow the locomotive down? I don’t see it. Safety Eric Weddle is still one of the best in the business, but cornerbacks Derek Cox and Shareece Wright are exploitable. DeSean Jackson should have another 100-yard receiving game.
The Chargers have weapons on offense for quarterback Phillip Rivers, but the Eagles will be down a starting cornerback with Bradley Fletcher likely out with a concussion. Brandon Boykin will be the next corner up and will move outside in the base defense. The Eagles have mostly had their cornerbacks play right or left, but defensive coordinator Bill Davis could be inclined to have 6-foot-1 Cary Williams shadow 6-5 Malcolm Floyd and 5-8 Boykin on 5-11 Vincent Brown. So what happens in the nickel? My guess is that Boykin will go back into the slot and either Brandon Hughes or Jordan Poyer will take over outside. Hughes is returning from a fractured hand, but Poyer struggled in the opener as you would expect a rookie that missed most of the offseason workouts.
San Diego’s offensive line is once again suspect. Former Eagle King Dunlap is the starting left tackle. Trent Cole could have a field day. Rookie D.J. Fluker is on the other side and had a rough first game.
Prediction: Eagles 30, Chargers 20
What goes right: The Eagles defense continues to play with great effort and forces a couple of turnovers with Mychal Kendricks recording his first career interception.
What goes wrong: Tight end Antonio Gates, still a threat at 33, has his way against the Eagles linebackers.
The Eagles’ debut went as well as one could have hoped. Their encore performance might be even better.
This is not to take anything away from the Chargers, but this is a tough task for San Diego. Traveling cross-country to play a game that’s 10 a.m. on the Chargers’ body clocks is a difficult enough task most weeks. But this is a short week -- the Chargers also played Monday -- and they don’t have a lot of time to prepare for the different looks that the Eagles presented on Monday.
Of course, when a game seems so obvious -- and a team with as many question marks as the Eagles is such a heavy favorite -- then it’s usually a sign to go against the grain.
I don’t see it here. Both teams will score, as the Eagles might not have the same fortune with turnovers as last week. But the Eagles will score more.
Expect Michael Vick to throw the ball more than 25 times this game, and don’t expect LeSean McCoy to carry the ball more than 30. But the offense will still be effective. Bryce Brown will have a bigger game, and he and McCoy can approach 200 yards together. The Chargers lack depth on defense -- their defensive line doesn’t rotate (although it’s an impressive unit) and they’re lacking at inside linebacker. This will be a major advantage for the Eagles.
On the other side of the ball, Philip Rivers can still sling it. His receiving corps is not especially strong. Vincent Brown is an underrated player, though. Antonio Gates obviously is not the same player he once was, but he still must be accounted for. One player who jumped out when watching their preseason was tight end Ladarius Green. He didn’t do much in the opener, but he has size and talent.
The Chargers running game struggled in the opener, and the Eagles rush defense excelled. San Diego might run the ball better on Sunday, but it won’t be enough to really put a dent in the Eagles.
This is an overall good matchup for the Eagles. I thought they’d win it before the season started, and I’m more convinced after watching both games on Monday. Then again, the Eagles surprised last week – there’s also the possibility for a let-down in Week 2.
Prediction: Eagles 35, Chargers 27
What goes right: Michael Vick is again over 60 percent passing, Bryce Brown rushes for 50 yards. The Eagles again force a turnover.
What goes wrong: The Chargers hit on one big play, which Washington didn’t do last week. The Eagles will again turn over the ball.